Shifting the Curriculum: Decentralization in the Art Education Experience


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Shifting the Curriculum: Decentralization in the Art Education Experience, by Heidi May, Art Education, Volume 64, No. 3 (pp. 33-41) copyright National Art Education Association (NAEA) 2011.

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Shifting the Curriculum: Decentralization in the Art Education Experience

  1. 1. Shifting the Curriculu2: . ~ o When it is told, it is, to the one to whom it is told, another given fact, not an idea. The communication may stimulate the other person to realize the question for himself and to think out a like idea, or it may smother his intellectual interest and suppress his dawning effort at thought. But what he directly gets cannot be an idea. Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem at first hand, seeking and finding his own way out, does he think. In such shared activity, the teacher is a learner, and the learner is, without knowing it, a teacher-and upon the whole, the less consciousness there is, on either side, of either giving or receiving instruction, the better." - John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916 ) "In a decentralized classroom, the teacher becomes a partner who initiates learning and provides support as needed, but does not inhibit intuitive knowledge and innovative thinking in the process of performing these duties." -Christopher Adej ul110 (2002) BY t-t . May 2011 / ART EDUCATION 33
  2. 2. -e --______________~ ~-----­ - he act of learning is facilitated through an open communication process (centralized network) and that of a T that encourages one to discover meaning within certain ideas, objects, and experiences. The traditional classroom environment, often consisting of a hierarchical relationship between teacher and student, does not always allow for this kind of open communication to occur. In a decentralized approach to teaching and learning the subject matter can be placed at the center of the process, teaching and learning experience that encompasses a complex approach (decentralized network). Learning is about discovering what motivates us to a set of ideas; a traditional classroom environment, often based on a power relationship between teacher and rather than the teacher or student, while participants are inspired and empowered student, does not always facilitate an open through the experience. When a collaborative approach is embraced, decentraliza- communication process for discovering tion in the art classroom can consist of a non-linear exchange of ideas between these motivations (Burnett, 1999). A decentralized approach to teaching and teacher and students, allowing for necessary dialogue and conversation, ultimately learning does not necessarily mean that leading to innovative exploration of materials and concepts. In this situation, the teacher neglects to create a lesson students can become active learners as opposed to passive participants, and plan; instead it requires the teacher to teachers learn to strategically listen and watch for teachable moments. create a structure that allows for certain ideas to trigger other ideas and for knowledge to be discovered within this This article examines the decentralized A Circular Process: circular process. Complex and decentral- approach to art curriculum from a Decentralization, Complexity, ized approaches to teaching are most pedagogical point of view, acknowledging appropriate for learning situations in advantages and disadvantages for art and Interpretation in Art Complexity theory in education which there exists more than one response educators, and its contribution to a to a topic. There must be more than one curriculum that captures the current embraces a collaborative and non-linear experience of learning, rejecting the use of interpretive possibility to begin with and cultural aesthetic experience. By referring structures need to be in place for ideas to to research in art education and writings of linear, machine-based metaphors (Davis, Sumara, & Luce-Kapler, 2008). Teaching stumble across one another-this being curriculum theorists, I argue for an more important than the way the physical application of decentralized approaches to and learning is described as moving away from the concept of one individual passing system is organized (Davis, et a!., p. 199). teaching visual art in contemporary The group discussions surrounding the learning environments, with emphasis on established knowledge on to another, to the concept of collectives elaborating emergent creation and/or interpretation of instigating critical thinking within artworks-the studio critique-provides classroom critiques of student artwork. The knowledge (Davis, et aI., 2008). In this view, learning is not a cause-and-effect an appropriate context for a complex following topicS are addressed: the approach that includes hermeneutic connection between decentralized relationship between a teacher and student but rather one part of a complex system inquiry. curriculum and complexity thinking, the significance of dialogical exchange between that is dependent on many other parts. Hermeneutic inquiry, tracing back to the teacher and students, the concept of Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the difference philosophical thinking of Schleiermacher emergent knowledge, and the noted desire between the traditional classroom and Heidegger, is a type of understanding for flexible curricular models in art experience with the teacher at the center that constantly moves back and forth education. I conclude by providing accounts of collaborative learning within university studio art courses that occur in online environments, with the intent of provoking thought for art education at all levels. Throughout, I describe a theoretical framework for understanding decentral- ized curriculum as I argue for a contempo- rary art pedagogy that is reflective of contemporary life. Figure 1. A Centralized Network (illustration by the author).34 ART EDUCATION I May 2011
  3. 3. Figure 2. A Decentralized Network. (illustration by the author). [Note: Although Figures 1 and 2 reference illustrations from Davis, Sumara, and Luce-Kapler (2008),these are generic representations that can be easily found by an online search.]between the parts and the whole that we meaning of experience for each individual" and abstract experience as the dialogicalseek to understand; it is the process of (Slattery, 2006, p. 282). I can attest to a type process between innovative thoughts or actsunderstanding. Within hermeneutic inquiry, of "self-forgetfulness" (Smith, 1999) in the (associative) and the more methodicalthere is the act of working through which critique experience, in which the meaning of requirements of the task at hand (analytic).one might describe as a rhythmic, dialogical the artwork is one that is constructed In the teaching of visual art, one mightmovement between thoughts. Within my through the participatory relations within consider assigning projects in which studentsown curriculum theorizing, I am especially the group-a learning process that I choose continually revisit the same form/conceptdrawn to the concept of the hermeneutic to moderate, and perhaps guide, as opposed with multiple methods, each time pushingcircle, as influenced by the philosophers to plan in advance. By allowing fellow the form/concept in a new direction. The keynamed above. In the teaching and learning of students to continually voice their interpreta- would be to place very little emphasis on theart, my understanding of the hermeneutic tions, I have witnessed the artists under- quality of the end result, highlighting insteadcircle is one of a dialogical process of standing of the work deepen and, later on, in the significance of the process itself bymeaning that occurs in the making of art future projects, expand and build upon this allowing the student to retrace transforma-and/or the linguistic interpretation of art in understanding. tive moments-an understanding of howstudio critiques. A pedagogical approach to The rhythmic movement within the different methods inform one another. Thisthe studio critique can be one that is hermeneutical circle could be considered could also be revealed through collaborativedecentralized, with participants placed in similar to the back and forth nature of the projects in which students contribute to eachsimultaneous view of both the artwork and creative process itself-a cognitive process others work, in a back and forth manner, aeach other. The artwork in between the that oscillates between associative and technique influenced by the Surrealistparticipants becomes the subject of inquiry, analytic modes of thought (Gabora, 2002; exquisite corpse game. These exercises wouldallowing for interpretation to move back and Gabora, in press). Psychology professor be followed by a larger conceptual project inforth from the art object (the part) to the Liane Gabora describes the creative process which students are asked to choose andidea being expressed (the whole). A as neither random nor causal, but more like combine methods with the intention ofnon-linear and circular exchange of the continual focusing in and out of inSights conveying a specific meaning.interpretations between all participants is through association and analysis (Gabora,supported with the intention of "... each new 2002, p. 8). I refer to this almost indefinableexperience addling) to the accumulated May 2011 I ART EDUCATION 35
  4. 4. Mapping the Experience and in which the visual work becomes the object Relinquishing Control of attention and produces emergent knowledge. In referring to Figure 3 or "the A decentralized network can produce a rhizome form/model; one can imagine the We are shaped by our own rhizomatic experience, almost like a mapping flow of knowledge that trickles through the of creative possibilities and connections. educational space, from one node, or educational experiences, When art educators allow for open dialogue participant, to another. and collaborative discourse between students which are often defined by a and themselves in studio critiques, a Disadvantages to a decentralized peda- rhizomatic experience may evolve as gogical approach include a major shift in traditional lecture style of participants each build upon each others curriculum planning that requires the comments, one response leading to another teacher to adjust instructional strategies teacher-student interaction. response and so on. Patrick Slattery (2006) according to individual groups, and that the describes the act of interpretation as teacher be willing to feel uncomfortable Accepting a decentralized "something that should emphasize possibility during an unpredictable teaching and and becoming, for human consciousness can learning experience (Milbrandt, Felts, approach to curriculum and never be static" (p. 282). The idea of human Richards, & Abghari, 2004). Complexity consciousness never being static is similar to thinking highlights the importance of teaching can allow us to the view of knowledge being a complex neighboring interactions of ideas, but the means to accomplish this must be "consid- explore the possibilities of system of evolving rhizomatic forms. The rhizome form (Figure 3) is divergent, ered on a case-by-case basis, depending on the topic, the context, and the personalities dialogue as a pedagogical extending in all directions, and rather than involved" (Davis et ai., 2008, p. 199). In other being comprised of a set of points and tool for emergent knowledge. positions, it consists oflines in metamorphis words, decentralized approaches to teaching and learning can be complicated and (Deleuze & Guittari, 1987). In describing the rhizomatic form, Deleuze and Guittari state, time-consuming, yet can produce an "A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a aesthetic experience that deepens meaningful given spot, but it will start up again on one of understanding related to cultural issues. its old lines, or on new lines ... these lines When writing curriculum for speCific always tie back to one another" (p. 9). The courses, I have found the process of devel- studio critique has the potential to become a oping learning objectives to be almost more rhizomatic experience, one that occurs valuable than the list itself. The objectives within a dialogical space of critical thinking allow for focus and a sense of direction, but36 ART EDUCATION / May 2011
  5. 5. Figure 4. Rhizomean Curricular Landscape (illustration by the author in reference to original diagram in Aoki. 2005).the teaching and learning experience is often disrupted, perhaps the studio critique can Critical theorist Paulo Freire is well knownmore enriching when the list is pushed aside. function as a place for shaping inSights, for his research on democratic communica- Teachers sometimes find it difficult to which then become personalized through tion within the teacher-student relationshiprelinquish control in order to allow students conversation and dialogue. Conversation and the role that dialogue plays in forminga greater sense of, however, this can within studio art courses is key to the knowledge. Freire discusses the dialogicalsometimes lead to teachable moments as learning process, and there is value in the act process stating, "the object to be known instudents are individually engaged with the of talking to work out interpretations and one place links the two cognitive subjects,content. Decentralized instruction precondi- differences (Kent, 2005). Decentralized forms leading them to reflect together on thetions students to access their inner feelings of curriculum allow for importance to be object" (Shor & Freire, 1987, p. 14). Shor andand intuitions in the learning process, often placed on the flow of conversation and Freire describe dialogue as a "joint act ofexpressing non-linear ideas with less fear of dialogue between participants. The dialogical knowing and re-knowing the object of study"rejection (Adejumo, 2002, p. 8). Some groups relationships that are produced in this (p. 14). In writing about curriculumof students may be more difficult than others educational experience are, in my opinion, pertaining to art teachers, Erickson (2004)to engage in constructivist processes, but extremely Significant. It is not just about a referred to a study by Short (1998) thatteachers who embrace these methods have dialogue between teacher and student, it is concluded that the understanding of art, andfound it to be worth the effort (Milbrandt et also about the conversations between student the ability to transfer this understandingaI., 2004). With this understanding of the and student, between student and the from one context to another, should includerelationship between complexity thinking content, and between the teacher and the the critical activities of talking and writingand decentralized forms of teaching, the content. The interpersonal is as important as about works of art (p. 62). For visual artpower that belonged to the teacher within a any other part of the learning experience; the educators who place importance on the actbehaviorist model oflearning can now be difficulty is that the structure of the tradi- of critical thinking, as opposed to solelythought of as shifting within social activity. tional educational experience, both from the developing technical skills, I claim that these teachers and the students perspective, activities of talking and writing extend intoDialogical Possibilities within the mitigates the value of invention and the act of hermeneutic inquiry, ultimatelyTeaching and Learning of Art exploration (Burnett, 1999). We are shaped leading to self-reflection. This can be by our own educational experiences, which described as an aesthetic, sometimes even As described here, decentralized or are often defined by a traditional lecture style existential, experience that rarely exists in aconstructivist approaches to art education of teacher-student interaction. Accepting a centralized and hierarchical approach tocan often allow for a rhizomatic flow of decentralized approach to curriculum and teaching and learning.emerging knowledge that moves in a teaching can allow us to explore themultilinear manner within what I refer to as possibilities of dialogue as a pedagogical toola dialogical space of teaching and learning. for emergent knowledge.When traditional hierarchical roles are May 2011 / ART EDUCATION 37
  6. 6. happen "between" the forms that represent the teacher and students-the exchanges of communication. He draws attention to the term "multiplicity" not being a noun, because within multiplicity it is not the elements that matter but what is in between them. I understand this to mean that the curriculum is about the experience, the process, and the relationship between the teacher and students. It seems only fitting that Aokis "live(d) curriculum" be taken up by art educators, as it not only leads to self-reflection and critical inquiry but also acknowledges the affective aspects of the teaching and learning experience. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of a decentralized approacb to teaching art is the prevention of planned enculturation. Osberg and Biesta (2008) write about the space of emergence in which meaning and knowledge is formed in the classroom, however, they argue that the concept of emergence be not only applied to knowl- edge but to human subjectivity as well. Their concern is that even though the teacher structures the curriculum to allow for emergent knowledge to occur in this space, the problem of planned encultura- Figure S. Authors Representation of Eflands Spiral Lattice Model. tion still exists. Influenced by complexity thinking and research that has examined how educators can encourage the emer- One might consider assigning In the Space of Emergence gence of meaning in the classroom (Davis, et al., 2000), the authors are less interested and Inquiry projects in which students This kind of aesthetic classroom in pedagogical methods and more interested in the kinds of meaning that are experience, or dialogical space, has been continually revisit the same form/ written about by various curriculum allowed to emerge in the classroom: theorists, albeit each defining the phenom- "This question is important because, concept with multiple methods, enon with different language to describe its if meaning is understood as each time pushing the form/ intangible qualities. Ted Aoki wrote about the "live(d) curriculum" as something in emergent, and if educators wish to encourage the emergence of concept in a new direction. The key opposition to planned curriculum and meaning in the classroom, then the explained his concepts by using a visual meanings that emerge in the would be to place very little illustration (Figure 4) of what he terms the classrooms cannot and should not be "rhizomean curricular landscape" (Aoki, pre-determined before the event of emphasis on the quality of the end 1996/2005, p. 419). There are similarities their emergence: (Osberg & Biesta, between Aokis curricular landscape and result, highlighting instead the the decentralized network. Aoki suggests p. 314; italics in original) that the rhizomean landscape signifies the Osberg and Biesta argue that emergence significance of the process itself. multiplicity of curricula that occur in the must be used on two levels-for knowl- learning space and the relationships that edge/meaning and for human subjectivity.38 ART EDUCATION / May 2011
  7. 7. There is potential for the art teacher to become afacilitatorof critical inquiry among active participants, encouragingmultiple viewpoints, within a curricular model that invitesself-reflective practices.They suggest that we need to abandon education that occurs today through the use more research needs to be done to properlypre-conceived notions of what constitutes a of the Internet (Sweeny, 2008). With the evaluate how the technologies impact thehuman subject in order to understand who Internet becoming more of an accessible tool content being taught and how students arewe are in relation to each other, and that if for interconnectivity and interactivity, some learning to think and express ideas withinthis process occurs as knowledge emerges in art educators like Sweeny are suggesting that these new environments.the educational space than it is possible to teachers take advantage of the flexiblehave curriculum that is free of enculturation. technology and use it to inform pedagogical Teaching Art Online: Osberg and Biesta conclude that the space practices. Sweeny argues that the open Collaborative Discourseof emergence for knowledge and subjectivity classroom movement did not survive because As I reflect upon my own experiences ofrequires that differences amongst partici- the general culture was not ready for the teaching first-year university studio artpants be maintained in the classroom. This change, stating that these methods may be courses online (spanning close to 6 yearssuggests the responsibility of the teacher is to better accepted today: "It is relevant for art now), I can see instances in which anenable students to become more unique and educators teaching in a networked age at all increased emphasis on collaborative learningnot to ensure a desired end but rather to levels to return to the philosophies of the has led to critical dialogue and creative"complicate the scene" (p. 325). If this theory open classrooms, as many of these structures insight that might not have occurred in theis applied to the studio critique, it would resemble aspects of complexity theory. traditional face-to-face classroom. This is notrequire the teacher to initiate debate and Perhaps the theories were developed too to say that all art education should move tocontrasting opinions regarding students soon and can only now be implemented in the space/place of the Internet (that would beinterpretations and understandings of the an age of networks" (Sweeny, 2008, p. 56). absurd); however, the experience has alloweo dworks they produce, without promoting one If we are to consider contemporary life me to examine art pedagogy in a moreparticular point of view-a difficult task. I outside of schools as we develop curriculum objective manner, by being forced to existconclude with an account of such an for our art students, we will find a steady within a different space. One can challengeexperience. increase of user-friendly digital technologies the hierarchical nature of a traditional studio designed to enhance collaborative methods critique, but the online studio group critique Flexible Curricular Models for of communication (e.g. wiki websites). demands active participation from all Art Education Digital technologies like social networking students and, in some cases, provides Since the beginning of the postmodern sites and online learning systems enable opportunity for usually silent students toera, educators have been calling for curric- interactive and participatory collaborations, speak. The Internet allows for moreulum and pedagogy that responds to the and allow for "multidirectional conversations peer-to-peer learning than can physicallychallenges of contemporary society. Efland that can occur in multidimensional spaces" occur in the traditional classroom; students(1995) argued for a flexible curricular model (Davis et aI., 2008). Social networking learn from seeing what other students arethat prepares teachers and students to websites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) are being doing and from reading/listening toapproach the world of art in all its said to allow for a new kind of intimacy that constructive critique.complexity-a spiral lattice type model is being described as an acute form of One example comes to mind in which(Figure 5) represents learning within art self-reflection (Thompson, 2008). Art students were asked to create a piece about acurriculum, allowing for multiple forms of educators are capable of seeing new social issue needing more attention. Ainterpretation, implementation and pedagogical possibilities when working with student created a piece that addressedindividualization of experience. Robert digital technology in curriculum (Wang, bulimia, suggesting the role media plays inSweeny (2004) proposes a decentralized 2002; Wood, 2004), which suggests that the perception of female bodies. Theapproach to art education, which I consider networked approaches to curriculum would two-dimensional photographic workto be a more complex version of Eflands- benefit from the work of art education depicted a female subject in front of a wall ofmore expansive and multilinear, similar to researchers. For instance, recent research in magazine covers, while simultaneouslythat of a decentralized network. post-secondary art education has shown that presenting a parody to the popular "got digital technologies, such as social milk?" advertising campaign. Instead of the Sweeny writes about the inherent networking websites, are being implemented females mouth being surrounded with milk, connection between the pedagogical into post-secondary foundation level art the milk was replaced by vomit, yet the entire philosophies associated with the open curriculum resulting in better peer-to-peer work was produced in a very sophisticated classroom movement of the 1960s (emphasis interaction and creating active learners as manner. A contentious debate was initiated on learning in small groups, variety of opposed to passive participants (Collins, et by the students, none of which had met each activities, and the teacher being less of an ai, 2007). As online technologies are being other in person. Did the artist go too far? authority figure) and that of networked incorporated into visual art curriculum, May 2011 / AR T ED UCATI ON 39
  8. 8. Would the image distract from the message the piece and how well it met its objective. Obviously, this article does not provide the artist intended to convey? How might Knowledge and subjectivity hopefully clearly defined how-to teaching methods for this challenge media portrayals of the female emerged in this circular process of critical collaborative and emergent learning, but figure? Arguments were articulated clearly, inquiry. The networked learning space of the rather appeals for art educators to embrace a exceeding personal opinion and taste. The Internet provides appropriate time for sense of openness that is ironically aided by quality of the feedback provided by students self-reflection and critical response, while current digital technologies. There is became stronger as the dialogue progressed decentering the role of the teacher to a guide potential for the art teacher to become a and commentary oscillated between the on the side who moderates the rhizomatic facilitator of critical inquiry among active formal and conceptual considerations of the flow of thought. participants, encouraging multiple view- larger image. Towards the end of the critique, In conclusion, we are all learners-and as points, within a curricular model that invites it became apparent (through the voice of art educators we need to be open to engage self-reflective practices. another student) that the female subject in the learning process with our students. depicted in the piece was in fact the artist There needs to be an attempt for an equality Heidi May is an instructor in the Emily herself. Would this student have been willing of exchange between all participants in the Carr University of Art and Design and a to make such a provocative artwork in a classroom. Conversation can lead to PhD candidate in Art Education at the face -to-face class? Would fellow students be significant understandings of visual art and University of British Columbia, Vancouver, as willing to discuss the work honestly? can be used to make students more socially Canada. E-mail: Whether the students, or myself, agreed or and culturally aware of their personal not with the students approach, the focus of experiences in contemporary SOciety. the critique remained on the effectiveness of REFERENCES Adejumo, C. (2002). Five ways to Deleuze, G .• & Guattari. F. (1987) . A Gabora. L. (2002). Cognitive Smith. D. G. ( 1999) . 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